Kalklinbanan - the aerial ropeway connecting the limestone quarry at Forsby with the cement factory at Köping was opened in 1941, after record two years of building time. The sites are located 42 kilometers apart, separated by a wide strait, farmland and dense forests and solving the transportation needs was a big challenge. Options like using trucks, extending the canal networks and building a new rail line were evaluated, but all these alternatives were rejected. Finally, the ropeway alternative came up, which then was decided to be the way to go, presumably triggered by the outbreak of WWII. Completing a ropeway of that length was a major achievement at that time, and the design was highly modern and innovative, including a fully automated and continuous operation. The ropeway became at the opening the longest in Europe and further the world's longest of its type.
The ropeway turned out to be a reliable and highly cost efficient solution, which enabled it to be in operation until 1997. It was not closed because wear and tear, but rather that the transportation volumes of limestone from Forsby had been on the decline for a long time. The Köping factory is still in operation, but as the cement production dropped sharply during the 1970s to finally cease in 1978. Today, most of the limestone arrives by sea from Norway and England as the raw material from the Forsby pit is not white enough for the mainstream use today. A small amount of limestone is still taken at Forsby, but the quantity is too low to justify keeping the ropeway running. The transportation to Köping is today done by trucks.
The ropeway is divided into four segments, each segment following a perfect straight line between junction stations. A 140 hp electric motor drives each segment and with one bucket released each 48 seconds, each carrying a payload of 1200 kg, the transporting capacity is around 90 metric tons per hour. It is somewhat fascinating to watch the steel buckets gently passing by with some 10 kph speed, almost whispering. The success of the design apparently boasted the morale of the engineering team, and a 96 kilometre sequel was built a few years later for another customer up in the north of Sweden (which today is out of service and most of it is scrapped - http://www.pbase.com/jakobe/demolished_cableway )
The futuristic appearance of the buildings and pylons reminds of a Flash Gordon spaceship and the aggressive construction plans and the engineering challenge signals true self-confidence from a business perspective. The cement plant peaked in 1967, where a record 650,000 metric tons of limestone was carried by the ropeway. A time when demand soared and ugly concrete buildings were shooting up like mushrooms everywhere in Sweden.
Although the ropeway has not been in regular use since 1997, the entire installation is still operational and is tested and lubricated regularly. Kudos to the ropeway team of Nordkalk, which have maintained the installation so well over the years. It looks somewhat funny to see the empty buckets hanging upside down apparently carrying nothing. People without knowledge about the history must really be wondering what's going on...
Since 2002, the ropeway is preserved as an industrial memorial with future plans as a tourist attraction. However sadly, it seems like the involved parties are starting to back out from the initial consensus of preserving the ropeway. Its owner, limestone producer Nordkalk has agreed to handle over the entire installation together with a lump of cash to a newly created foundation, which in turn will take over all future responsibilities. Keeping a memorial of this size in shape is a major undertaking which undisputedly will require considerable amount of funding, effort as well as a number of enthusiasts and probably most importantly, people who know how it the entire installation works and shall be maintained. It seems like the politicians of the local communities are getting nervous of exposing themselves to these potential risks including potential environmental problems which are not known today. Although painful to accept, I somewhat cannot blame them. Being cash- and resource strapped, the last thing you would want to have on top of that is a slowly deteriorating industrial memorial calling for action that in the end few voters care about.
The bottom line is that the future of the ropeway relies on people knowing all the inner details of maintenance and operations, and inevitably they are getting older. Although enough knowledge is still around the corner on a volontary basis, this is obviously not a sustainable solution in the long run. Given the uniqueness and the perfect shape of the installation it would be very sad if this all fails and this spectacular piece of pre-WWII engineering disappears.
Update 2013-06-26: After years of discussions leading nowhere, the demolition work has now started. Sad news, but somewhat expected.
Update 2013-10-28: The demolition work is now in full progress and the Malmberga-Hjälmaren segment is now gone. Far away from there now, so unfortunately no pictures...